| August 9, 2012

Marley is the definitive documentary of the late Reggae star Bob Marley, whose life began amid a humble, poverty-stricken, farming environment in 1945 in Jamaica. But in the midst of these shortcomings, Bob became the “architect” of Reggae music.

The documentary, which is well written and provides an exhaustive look into the musician, revolutionary, legend, and the man, contains interviews with his first school teacher who said she saw that Bob “kept good time and enjoyed singing.” Made with the support of the Marley family, the film also features interviews with the people that knew him best, rare footage and never before seen performances and music. These subjects include Rita, Marley’s wife, Neville “Bunny” Livingston, one of his Wailers’ band mates, Chris Blackwell, of Island Records, and his children, Ziggy, Stephen and Cedella.

His mother had a brief relationship with an older white man named Capt. Norval Marley, who rejected Bob. He lamented the fact that he was considered mixed race. This concern was later manifest in the song, One Love, meaning that he didn’t want to be known as half black or half white.

Bob learned about the Rastafarian movement from Mortimer Planno, and he developed an affinity for this religion that he felt provided the only true reflection of Afro centric people—teaching self-reliance and that Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was Jesus Christ incarnate.

After this time, Bob grew his famous dreadlocks, taking a vow to not cut or comb his hair, and this became his identity, along with a desire to treat people right, as well as the well-known desire that Bob had to smoke ghani, which Bob said was the herb referred to in the book of Revelations. “It put Bob into a holy mood and a certain consciousness,” said Rita.

In 1970, shortly after his mother moved to Wilmington, Delaware, Bob (who had 11 children with seven different women) married background singer Rita, and they both moved to the states for a short time.

Livingston appeared to be a bit jealous of Bob, even though they were friends and band mates. “I met Bob when he was chopping wood,” Bunny said, while crediting himself with teaching Bob the ropes. The name “Wailers” for Bob Marley and the Wailers came about when the trio, including Bob, Peter Tosh and Livingston, were searching for a name, and someone suggested that their circumstances lent themselves to “wailing or complaining.”

Bob and his music weren’t instant financial successes. However, from Exodus, No Woman, No Cry, Judge Not (at age 16), Simmer Down, Catch A Fire, Bob became known the world over, worked with Stevie Wonder in 1975 and toured Europe. Finally, Bob’s last concert was in Pittsburgh in September 1980, after which he was correctly diagnosed with skin cancer that had become terminal, and he later died in May 1981 at the age of 36.

The interviews in Marley speak to the man that all knew very well. Some shared moments of events or performances that happened years ago, as if they just happened yesterday. Accounts were told with a reverence for Bob that spoke to his influence on the small farming Jamaican town in which he was raised. The documentary showed the poorer sections of Trenchtown, as well as the exclusive area where Bob eventually lived and wrote songs. There were scenes from the Brixton area of London, where Bob briefly lived and played soccer with his crew, as well as snowy white scenes from Bavaria, where he spent three months undergoing cancer treatment. The most poignant reflections were  from his daughter Cedella. She talked about loving her father and his career but not appreciating how he wasn’t around much. She tearfully shared that during his last days, she couldn’t get to his bedside in Miami, because many others had come with well wishes.

I simply loved this documentary and was sad to see it end, even at nearly 150 minutes in running time. I think what saddened me the most were Bob’s last months before his death.

Marley is a “must-have” for music fans everywhere—not just Reggae fans. It really shows the effect that one’s environment can have on the measure of a man, and his social and political involvement. “This will give people a more emotional connection to Bob—not just as a reggae legend of mythical figure, but to his life as a man,” said Ziggy Marley.

Marley from Academy Award®-winning director Kevin Macdonald is available on Blu-ray and DVD August 7 from Magnolia Home Entertainment. Visit

About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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